Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on May 6, 2019, claimed that melting sea ice — which scientists warn is a sign of potentially catastrophic climate change — is set to open up new “opportunities for trade” by shortening the length of sea voyages from Asia to the West by as much as three weeks.
Speaking at a meeting of the Arctic Council in Rovaniemi, Finland on May 6, 2019, Pompeo described the Arctic as the “forefront of opportunity and abundance.”
“Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new passageways and new opportunities for trade,” he continued. “This could potentially slash the time it takes to travel between Asia and the West by as much as 20 days,” he said.
“Arctic sea lanes could become the 21st century Suez and Panama Canals,” Pompeo said.
As well as shortening journey times, Pompeo stressed the “abundance” of natural resources in the region which are yet to be fully exploited. “The Arctic is at the forefront of opportunity and abundance,” he said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
“It houses 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil, 30% of its undiscovered gas, an abundance of uranium, rare earth minerals, gold, diamonds, and millions of square miles of untapped resources, fisheries galore.”
Pompeo made the remarks May 6, 2019, at a meeting of the Arctic Council, which comprises nations with territory in the Arctic Circle: The United States, Russia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. He warned Russia and China against attempting to exert control over the region.
“Do we want the Arctic Ocean to transform into a new South China Sea, fraught with militarization and competing territorial claims? Do we want the fragile Arctic environment exposed to the same ecological devastation caused by China’s fishing fleet in the seas off its coast, or unregulated industrial activity in its own country? I think the answers are pretty clear,” he said.
Pompeo’s upbeat remarks on the economic opportunities offered by melting sea ice come as federal government agencies report that the amount of sea ice in the Arctic region is rapidly shrinking.
Ice floes in the Arctic Ocean.
Last week, the National Snow and Ice Data Center said in its monthly report that in April 2019, Arctic sea ice levels reached a record low for that time of year. The sea ice contracted by 479,000 square miles from its average extent between 1981 and 2010 to 5.19 million square miles, the center said.
In its December annual assessment of the Arctic, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned that warming air and ocean temperatures were “pushing the Arctic into uncharted territory.”
It said that rising temperatures in the Arctic were impacting the jet stream, which has been linked to extreme weather events, including a series of severe storms that battered the east coast of the United States late last year.
In a study published in the scientific journal Nature last year, scientists said that not only were coastal communities threatened by rising sea levels caused by melting ice, but shrinking ice sheets could accelerate climate change, causing extreme weather and disrupting ocean currents.
Pompeo’s remarks come on the same day that the United Nations in a report warned that climate change caused by humans had played a a role in placing one million animal plant and animal species at risk of extinction in the next decade.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.